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Re: Update on namespaces

From: Joe English <jenglish@crl.com>
Date: Sun, 15 Jun 1997 11:56:32 -0700
Message-Id: <199706151857.AA26159@mail.crl.com>
To: w3c-sgml-wg@w3.org

On 9 Jun 1997 Jon.Bosak@eng.sun.com (Jon Bosak) wrote:

> In order to better understand the requirements for namespaces, several
> members of the SGML ERB met in phone conference with key participants
> in the PICS-NG effort last Friday. [...]
> 1. One workable way to universally disambiguate the names of elements
> is to associate them somehow with specific URIs.  Not everyone agrees
> that this is the best way -- some of us would prefer a mechanism like
> the SGML formal public identifier -- but there seems to be a general
> acknowledgement that it will work.

Presumably a namespace will define several names, so a single
declaration to identify the namespace as a whole should suffice.
In other words, instead of associating a URI or an FPI with
individual elements, it would be better to declare the URI or 
FPI of the namespace itself in one place.

Regarding URIs vs. FPIs:  what would the URI point to?  Unless
the ERB defines a concrete, machine-processable notation for
namespace definitions, there is little need for a machine-resolvable 
address.  A unique name is good enough for identification purposes.  
It seems to me that a PUBLIC identifier is a more appropriate way to 
reference a namespace than a URI.

Then again, we already have a machine-processable notation for
defining element types: the (formal part of a) DTD!

Proposal: allow XML documents to import a namespace via
a NOTATION declaration:

	<!NOTATION foo PUBLIC "bar" [ SYSTEM "baz" ]>

where "foo" is the local identifier for the namespace, "bar" is
its global identifier, and "baz", if supplied, is a URI which
resolves to a DTD subset containing ELEMENT and ATTLIST
declarations for each element type defined by the namespace.

(<!NOTATION> is used because it's already in XML, in accordance
with goal 5 below, that no new syntax should be introduced.)

We might also need one more declaration to specify which
NOTATIONs refer to namespaces (as opposed to being "regular"
notations); how about a PI:

	<?NAMESPACE foo ...>

> 2. While some namespaces may be specified in a machine-interpretable
> form, other namespaces (and perhaps a certain component of all
> namespaces) will be in a form that cannot be interpreted by a machine.

This sounds a lot like a DTD: there's a machine-processable
formal part, and there's an informal part that is only interpretable
by human beings.  For namespaces there's no a priori need for the
formal part (come to think of it, this is largely true for XML
in general), but in the event that it is to be supplied we
might as well re-use the existing machinery of ELEMENT and
ATTLIST declarations.

> 3. There seemed to be general agreement that validatable structural
> information is not among the things that minimally need to be conveyed
> by a namespace identifier. [...]  In other words, as
> far as we can tell at the moment, the namespace problem does not
> require a solution that involves DTDs.  This does not mean that such a
> solution would not be useful, but it does seem to imply that it can
> wait for the SGML revision.

For the case where there are no structural constraints,
the namespace-DTD could use:


Alternately, the namespace could be entirely defined by the informal
part and the formal part omitted altogether.

I think structural information will be useful in many cases,
though, to give guidance as to how the different element
types in a namespace are intended to be used.

For example, suppose the namespace FOO defines element types
PERSON, NAME, and BIRTHDATE; a declaration like:

	    <!-- or: (NAME & BIRTHDATE) if we're not picky
		about meta-DTDs strictly conforming to XML -->

provides useful information to people who wish to use the FOO
namespace; it shows how the pieces are supposed to fit together.

> 4. As indicated in the example just given, it is necessary to be able
> to get more than one category of "meaning" about a given element.
> These different semantic axes may have to come from different places.
> For example, in <birthday>19850527</birthday> it may be necessary to
> point to one specification in order to indicate that the content
> refers to someone's date of birth and to a different specification to
> indicate that content happens in this case to be in ISO format.  This
> is multiple inheritance, but of a kind that can apparently be dealt
> with simply by providing the ability to attach multiple namespace
> identifiers to a given element.

This is rather tricky, especially considering that an element
may wish to inherit constructs that have different names in different

Proposal:  Allow elements to inherit from a namespace via
attribute value specifications.  The attribute name identifies a
namespace, and the attribute value identifies a name within that

Taking the above example, we would have:

	<!-- in the DTD (internal or external subset) -->

	<!NOTATION foo PUBLIC "bar">
	    <!-- defines PERSON, NAME, and BIRTHDATE as above -->
	<!NOTATION xml-type PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XML data types//EN">
	    <!-- something along the lines of Tim Bray's typing proposal -->

	<!-- in the instance: -->

	<birthday FOO=BIRTHDATE XML-TYPE=ISO-DATE>19850527</birthday>

	<!-- Or, if you're not concerned about DTD-unaware parsers
	     and want to save space, in the DTD: -->

	<!ATTLIST birthday
	<!-- and in the instance: -->

> 5. There is hope that the additions to xml-lang needed in the short
> term can be reasonably small, just enough to enable the solution of
> the more general problem later on.

The above proposal meets all the criteria, I think:
(1) it universally disambiguates namespaces (via FPIs);
(2) it provides for separate formal and informal specifications;
(3) it allows, but does not require, structural constraints
to be expressed; (4) it supports multiple inheritance; and
(5) it adds no new syntax to XML-LANG.

And, it's compatible with XML-LINK's link recognition mechanism
(part 2, section 2), and is virtually identical to the core
parts of SGML's architectural forms mechanism [*].

--Joe English


[*] The AFDR uses a different mechanism for locating meta-DTDs,
has several additional features (mostly having to do with attribute
renaming), and uses the term "architecture" instead of "namespace";
other than that the AFDR is substantially the same as what's proposed
Received on Sunday, 15 June 1997 15:00:30 UTC

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